MARIO DALPRA: The mind is free after all



20 Apr - 18 May 2011


Mario Dalpra – New Works  |  Exhibition Text by Sonja Traar

Changing imagery Looking at the works on canvas by Mario Dalpra, we fi nd a strong, expressive and gesture-oriented pictorial idiom, which is cast over the canvas in the form of an uncontrolled automatism, combined with elements of child-like semiotics. A rational system of rules that subjects the picture to logics or compositional design is screened out, traces of scratches, lopped-off and deformed human and animal bodily parts and reduced vegetal forms storm out of the subconscious and onto the surface. Characteristic of this work (and increasingly assertive in the more recent works) is the almost untamed energy and impulsive power communicated to the viewer out of the conglomeration of forms and colour traces. Almost berserk, driven by exploding inner aggression, fi ne, nervous strokes collide with massive black lines. A naked refl ection takes shape, of an inner state, an interior world of its own, a seismographic and merciless record of the screaming self, which recognises itself on the canvas and in this recognition unplugs the temporary horror to let it drain away, soothed in a fl ood of primal forms and explosions of colour. Faced with this eruptive language of forms, individual fi gures are now clearly recognisable, possessing a clear, if strongly stylised physiognomy, sometimes defi ned as busts, sometimes as full fi gures. They are almost exclusively female, luxuriously buxom forms throughout, in aesthetic confi guration reminiscent of woodcuts. The female fi gures crop up several times in the picture, acting as the main protagonists in multi-layered and juxtaposed pictorial scenarios, they seem to be recorded in an instant of their state of being, relating to each other in a kind of controlled randomness. The question arises whether always the same woman is involved in the female fi gures, portrayed in various moments, hence in a temporal displacement of her actions. The self has now shifted into one or multiple protagonists, lending it traits of character and emotional impulses. However, the power of colour in the paintings remains unbroken. Clear colours, above all red, yellow and blue, seek an interrelationship with the black lines. The colours, in combination with the female fi gures, seem to be an expression of vitality, of the realistic relationship to what is happening in the world – a kind of complement to the fi gures (who are all kept in black), endowing them with physicality and down-to-earth-ness, animating bodies that are transfixed in their sketchy outlines.

In the net of the quest for meaning As individual forms become more recognisable and the step is taken towards a wide-meshed approach to fi guration, an expansive semantic world opens up that no longer plunges into the depths and wells up from the roots of a primal semiology, but is far more at home on the spatial surface of the picture. The multi-layered levels of a gesture-oriented idiom are now, like a fi lm screen, spread on a fl at, smooth surface – or on the thin page of a book. The multiple strata of the scratch tracings, the black bars interwoven with them, the grotesque faces and the primitively outlined animal fi gures are now as if externally groomed and sleeked, placed next to each other instead of on top of each other. This world of new forms is full of intricate meanings and reinforced by other images evocative of the bizarre – for instance, an overdimensional, bent form like a showerhead, which protectively surrounds yet simultaneously threatens the female fi gures, or lines that cross the compositional structure and hold it together without suggesting a particular space. An impression arises that each of these images tells an episode, but the individual voices overlap so that the plot of the story cannot be deciphered. The question remains open whether the scenario contains autobiographical elements, or whether the stories derive purely from the imagination, or are stories borrowed from a literary source.

Elements of writing The remarkable thing about Mario Dalpra’s powers of pictorial invention is that the artist combines elements from various artistic languages into a holistic, aesthetically highly demanding means of expression. Thus, next to echoes of Art Brut we fi nd the aforementioned ornamentally nuanced scenarios reminiscent of miniature painting, also infl uences of Comic art and graffi ti. The latter becomes clear above all in the use of writing, which exists side by side with the painting and the graphic elements in the form of programmatic aphorisms. When we read sayings such as “I cant any more”, “You have to do it soon”, “It’s behind me”, or “Never ending”, you realise that they are stirrings out of a deep, poetic source and have nothing in common with the ephemeral poster slogans of graffi ti. An imaginary “I” speaks out of a not-quite-defi nable inner space of the individual forms or fi gures and seems to be refl ecting on itself. In a moment of silence and of sensing its own physiological and psychological state, this “I” speaks to itself. They are statements like “I can not stop” or also imperatives to the self, like “I have to do it soon”. Since lacking any politically oriented statement or social criticism, the sayings yet again intensify the introspection that the works are based on, that imbues the individual identity. They thus create an additional level in a potential quest for meaning, yet in doing this are not key to any potential meaning in the picture’s content. The writing is simply a further expression created by the “I”, in order to anchor itself on a point of the world and to ground on the picture surface some kind of existence, a mental space.